How to make a fruitful five-spirit offering, especially to ancestors and deities AN 4.61?

The Buddha teaches the householder Anāthapiṇḍika that one of the right uses of wealth is to make a five-spirit offering AN 4.61. Are there other suttas or resources that describe in some detail how to make an offering to ancestors and deities that is fruitful, especially to the recipient? Perhaps a longstanding custom would be a reliable resource. If you have any other information about this topic, I’d be happy to hear about it. Thank you.


AN 4.63 Seems to suggest that honoring one’s parents is an offering to deities/gods, but I’m not sure. For example:

“A family where the children honor their parents in their home is said to live with those worthy of offerings dedicated to the gods.”

There are other sections of the sutta that supports this hypothesis.

From Monier Williams’ Sanskrit dictionary:

Bali: any offering or propitiatory oblation (esp. an offering of portions of food, such as grain, rice &c., to certain gods, semi-divine beings, household divinities, spirits, men, birds, other animals and all creatures including even lifeless objects ; it is made before the daily meal by arranging portions of food in a circle or by throwing them into the air outside the house or into the sacred fire; it is also called bhūta-yajña and was one of the 5 mahā-yajñas, or great devotional acts ; cf. RTL. 411, 421) Gṛ̥hya and Śrauta-Sūtra. Manusmṛti. (esp. iii, 69, 71) Mahābhārata. &c. (often ifc. with the object, the receiver, the time, or the place of the offering).

I don’t know if there’s any detailed account of how Buddhists have practised / ought to practise the pañcabali, but there is quite a detailed account of how the brahmins went about it in Monier Williams’ Religious Thought and Life in India pp. 410-25.


The sutta-term pañcabali is not of Vedic origin. Possibly indeed the Vedic pañcaiva mahāyajñā (the five daily sacrifices) is meant. This custom is not ancient either. It is described for the first time in ŚB, a layer of texts not too long before the Buddha, but the five items are different here: to beings (bhūtayajña), to human beings (manuṣyayajña), to the Fathers (pitṛyajña), to the Devas (devayajña), and to Brahman (brahmayajña).

  • The sacrifice to human beings is done by offerings to guests
  • The sacrifice to Fathers is ‘with Svadha up to the cupful of water’. The translator explains based on other passages: “In making offering to the (three immediately preceding) departed ancestors, water is poured out for them (to wash themselves with) both at the beginning and at the end of the ceremony”. With ‘ancestors’ only the male ancestors are meant.
  • The sacrifice to the Gods is done with a log of wood.

A little later (not sure if pre-Buddha) in the Vaikhanasa Grhya Sutra 6.17 the same daily ritual described a bit differently:

  • The sacrifice to the Gods is the offering to the Gods of the cooked food at the Vaisvadeva
  • The sacrifice to the Fathers is the offering of the bali to them
  • The sacrifice to men consists of the presenting of food to the guests that arrive

Asvalayana Grhya Sutra 3.1.3 is more simple:
if he makes oblations over the (sacred) fire, this is the sacrifice to the Gods.
If he gives (Pinda offerings) to the Fathers, this is the sacrifice to the Fathers.
If he gives to men, this is the sacrifice to men.

Paraskara Grhya Sutra 2.9.1-16 gets very technical.

I would rule out Manusmrti and Mahabharata as irrelevant as they are post-Buddha

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Thanks, Bhante.

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Thanks, Gabriel.